In response to the killings in parts of Ebonyi State, the security apparatus in the South east set up a joint team of the army and police with the Deputy Governor of the state complementing the effort. This team, which, to demonstrate the seriousness of the matter, included the highest command of the security agencies, stormed the hideouts of the criminal elements suspected to be fuelling the recurring communal clashes in the state.
At the end of the exercise, it was reported that 66 of the suspects notoriously called warlords were arrested with arms, other dangerous weapons and charms. They were thereafter handed over to the police for profiling and prosecution. For many of the communities in Ohaukwu local government area of the state where these criminal elements had become a thorn in the flesh of the people, there was a huge sigh of relief. Before their arrest, the suspects carried on as if they were above the law.
Curiously, in the opinion of this newspaper, the feeling of ease by the people that, finally, these criminals have been taken out of their miseries, turned to trepidation and hurtful anxiety. This became obvious when the news broke that 55 of the suspects allegedly escaped from the custody of the police as soon as the security team turned its back.
Expectedly, in our view, since the report of the alleged escape of the suspects was made public, controversy leading to finger pointing has beclouded the otherwise successful exercise to rid the communities of the 'bad guys'. First, the police through the state commissioner, who had earlier admitted that some suspects escaped, soon changed his statement and wrote another script through the command's spokesman who declared that nobody escaped from their custody.
Earlier, the State Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace had said that the unfortunate development was an act of sabotage perpetrated by security operatives who might have compromised. This allegation was disputed by the Police.
As a newspaper, we share in the anger and frustration of the state government over the sudden twist of events, especially the controversial escape of the detainees. The state Governor had, in the execution of his duties as the chief security officer of the state, demonstrated sincerity of purpose and commitment in tackling the security challenges facing the state. Apart from making enormous resources available to the security agencies, he also often wielded the big stick against his aides, appointees and traditional rulers for either poor response to or management of security issues that lead to communal clashes. That explains why all stakeholders in the state, as far as security of life and property are concerned, feel disturbed by the turn of events.
While we commend the leadership of 82 Division of the Nigerian Army that oversees the state and that of the Police command in the state for leading by example, we further admonish them not to let the gains of their efforts, especially in this instant, to be eroded by the activities of a few unscrupulous elements under their command.
The governor should also go beyond demanding for explanation from the Army and police who have so far demonstrated enough will to fight insecurity, especially communal clashes in the state, to set up a body to inquire into the circumstances leading to the escape of the suspects.
Our main concern is that if this matter is swept under the carpet, it will invariably embolden the masterminds of the escape to continue with their antics of frustrating every move of the state government and the top hierarchy of the security agencies in the state to ensure law and order.
This newspaper is committed to peace and security in the South east zone as a whole and Ebonyi in particular and is, therefore, concerned that if nothing is done to send a strong message to the actors and others in their league that it is no longer business as usual, the escapees will return to the community when the dust has settled to continue their nefarious activities with the support of their purported cohorts in the security agencies.
At the risk of being seen as indicting the security agencies, it is our conjecture that it is this type of subterfuge that has been eroding the people's confidence in the security agencies and generating lack of trust in the process leading to worsening security situation in Ebonyi and other states in Nigeria. But that must not be allowed to continue.
Therefore, we urge the police and the military, particularly the latter, whose personnel have been drafted into civil duties because of the deteriorating security situation, to always strive to earn the confidence of the populace no matter the lure or attraction to do otherwise. The Ebonyi suspects' escape should not be treated with kid gloves. They must be rearrested for the long arm of the law to take its course and any of them found guilty of criminal act brought to deserved justice.